Costume Design: The Design Process

We now come to the process that a costume designer goes through when putting together a design for a play production. Like the set designer, the costume designer is primarily a visual designer, and will need to find an effective way to communicate visually with the play’s director. Like a set designer, the costumer will go through a pre design process that will involve a reading of the play, and possibly a session of thinking with a pencil. The costume designer will be an important part of the production meeting with the director, and begin to collaborate with the other designers, and make certain that everyone is working together to effectively Convey the directorial concept of the play. After the production meeting has concluded, the costume designer will begin a process of researching the period of the play, as well as analyze it with respect to the four character traits of each character. The physical, psychological, social, and moral traits will be considered, and then this analysis will be translated into a costume design. The designer will then do preliminary sketches of the prospective costumes for each of the characters in the play. This is similar to the thumbnail sketches generated by a set designer. A set of quick, simple drawings for each character, or sets of characters will be rendered for the director’s approval, or suggestions for changes. After the costumer and director have come to a mutual agreement on the preliminary sketches, the costume designer will generate a set of costume renderings, with swatches, to present to the director. Color renderings or drawings of prospective costumes created in the color medium of the designer’s choice. These renderings are often accompanied by a swatch, a small sample of fabric that will be used in the construction of the costume. Once the costume designer has gotten approval from the director to proceed with the costumes as designed at the color renderings, the costumer then undertakes the process of costume construction. During this phase, the designer works closely with the actors to make certain that the costumes have the desired effect, when worn by the actor. The construction process begins with measurements of the actors The designer gets measurements of the actors, and then records the proper dimensions to prepare for the next step of the construction process, cutting patterns. Cutting patterns for a costume is an art and a science. The designer must understand how the various measurements of the arm, leg, trunk, and other dimensions translate into the cutting of the patterns that are used as a guide to cut the fabric. After the patterns have been constructed, and used to cut the fabric, the construction process of the costume begins, as the fabric pieces are sewn together. As the construction progresses, it will be necessary for the costume to bring the actors back in for costume fittings. Having the actors return and try on costume, before the construction is complete, Allows the designer to make adjustments that are both aesthetically, and technically necessary. Depending on the size of the cast costumes may be pulled from stock and altered, rather than constructed from scratch. Theaters often have a costume shop and storage that is used for both costume construction, and costume storage. A big event for the costume designer is referred to as the “costume parade”. This occurs as the opening night gets closer The actors are brought out onto the stage, in front of the set, and under the stage lights, So that the director and costumer may get a sense of how all of the elements of the play will interact. Often the colors of the stage and the colors of the costumes require rethinking, an adjustment of either the set, costumes, or both. This is also true for the relationship between the costumes and the stage lights. We will talk about how a lighting designer uses colored gels to adjust the color of lights, and create an aesthetically pleasing effect. But this can have an unintentional negative effect. If not closely coordinated, the color of the lights can actually change the color of a costume. Once again, if this occurs the designers work together to make the adjustments necessary to solve this creative problem. At the costume parade actors may come out one by one for examination, but they’re often brought out in appropriate pairs, in groups, to see if any adjustments must be made to emphasize the relationships between the characters, or the characters within their environment. So the process comes full circle from theory, to practice. Typically the designer is available during the run of a show, to fix problems that occur. But, for the most part Once the costume parade is complete, and the adjustments have been made the costumers work on the production is complete. In our next section, we will take a look at the art of stage makeup. For now, go to your task for this section. We’ll see you next time.

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